- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2007

This is starting to become routine for Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas — who turns 25 years old today and who was off to his star-studded birthday party at Love night club last night — continued to play at a very high level, scoring 35 points, including 29 in the first half, and handing out a season-high 12 assists as the Wizards handled the Los Angeles Clippers 116-105 at sold-out Verizon Center.

“It was a win where coach [Eddie Jordan] is looking at everybody saying, ‘I’m not thinking about the party, I’m thinking about this game.’ ” Arenas said. “I think early on we might have been thinking about it but that didn’t last long. We came out on fire, making shots. But they are a big team and they get rebounds. Once we figured out that if they had three and four guys crashing the boards we could run on them. We figured it out.”

With the win, the Wizards (19-13) improved to six games over .500 for the first time since they closed the 2004-05 season, winning four of their last six to finish 45-37.

As Arenas walked off the court after having tossed yet another jersey into the crowd, many fans wished him a happy birthday.

However, the best gift he received last night was a complete performance from his teammates. Caron Butler continues to be one of the best forwards in the Eastern Conference. He finished with 27 points on 13-for-18 shooting. He also had five rebounds and six assists.

Antawn Jamison was solid as well, finishing with 19 points and six rebounds.

Brendan Haywood, with whom the Wizards have gone 9-2 in games he has started at center, added 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Washington, which made 51.6 percent of its field goals.

The Clippers (15-18) were led by Elton Brand’s 29 points and 12 rebounds.

Arenas got his celebration started early in the first half, when he went 11-for-16 from the field and was 4-for-6 from 3-point range for 29 points.

Clippers guard Shaun Livingston, who guarded Arenas early, wondered about Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy’s decision to avoid double-teaming Arenas until it was too late.

“Guys like him and Kobe Bryant, guys that can get off on a roll like that, especially from the perimeter, we have to make that a priority,” said Livingston, who finished with 19 points and eight assists. “We can’t just keep leaving one guy on an island. Obviously, it’s not working. It wasn’t working tonight.”

Early on, though, the Wizards, who filed out of the locker room quickly to make it to Arenas’ red-carpet affair, looked as if they had their minds on anything but basketball.

The Clippers scored 39 points in the first quarter and led by as many as 13 in the second.

The Wizards were outrebounded 18-5 in the first quarter and 51-36 overall. And with 10:31 to play in the second quarter they trailed the Clippers 44-31 following a Corey Maggette layup.

From that point on, the Wizards took over.

Beginning with Butler’s 16-foot turnaround jumper a few seconds later, the Wizards outscored the Clippers 35-13 the rest of the quarter. Led by Arenas’ 16 points in the quarter, the Wizards outscored the Clippers 37-18.

The Clippers didn’t appear capable of keeping up with the Wizards at the offensive end. While Washington shot 17-for-25 from the field (68 percent) in the second quarter, the Clippers made just 29.4 percent (5-for-17).

Jordan, though, wasn’t pleased with his team’s defensive effort.

“We’re getting better in some aspects and we’re not getting better in others,” he said. “We need to improve our defense and we need to improve our rebounding.”

The Wizards have won 15 of their last 19 games and continue to be as hot as any team in the league, including Dallas and Phoenix, teams the Wizards already have beaten.

Washington improved its home record to 13-3 and has won six straight at Verizon Center, its last loss coming almost a month ago when Houston beat them 114-109 behind 38 points from Yao Ming. They are also 4-1 at home against the Western Conference.

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